Eden Hazard netted a blockbuster last minute equalizer to spare Chelsea’s blushes and send them through to the last 16 of the UEFA Europa League in a 1-1 draw with Sparta Prague at Stamford Bridge.
The Blues won the first leg of this last 32 tie thanks to Oscar’s goal in a 1-0 victory, but David Lafata’s first goal for Sparta leveled the tie up in the 17th minute.
Fernando Torres missed a number of good chances during the game, but Chelsea were forced to rely on the substitute Hazard, who scored in the second minute of injury time.
The home side started with confidence after a 4-0 FA Cup victory over Brentford in their last game and should have taken the lead early in this fixture. Victor Moses showed good tenacity to get free on the right wing before cutting back to Torres, but the Spain striker could only curl inches wide from ten yards out.
Torres missed another stunning opportunity when he stretched to reach Juan Mata’s cross but failed to hit the target with the goal gaping from three yards out. Mata’s corner also allowed the former Atletico Madrid and Liverpool striker to nod wide, and Sparta showed the home side how it is done with their first opportunity.
Vaclav Kadlec out muscled Gary Cahill from a quick free-kick before poking the ball to Lafata, who made no mistake from four yards as he slammed the ball into the top corner. It was Sparta’s first goal in England for nine years and changed the complexity of this tie.
Mata curled a free-kick well over from distance before former Reading man Marek Matejovsky volleyed wide for the Czech Republic side.
Ramires’ stunning chipped pass was brilliantly controlled by Mata, but Tomas Vaclik made an amazing diving save to tip the shot over the crossbar. Torres blazed a header from John Obi Mikel’s cross over the crossbar as Chelsea went in 1-0 down at the half-time break.
Rafael Benitez had his work cut out for him in the second half, but his half-time speech had the desired effect as Chelsea came out reinvigorated. Oscar showed great skill to spin past two Sparta midfielders before sliding the ball to Ramires. The Brazil midfielder shot at goal but it took a deflection off of Matej Hybs and hit the post.
Moses fired well wide from 45 yards before Torres showed great mobility to spin away from two defenders, but his chipped shot was well saved by Vaclik.
John Terry flicked backwards at goal after a good header back by Torres, but Sparta’s Czech goalkeeper was equal to the weak volley.
It wasn’t all Chelsea though as Matejovsky let fly from 20 yards and the ball whistled past the post, inches away from doubling Sparta’s lead. Meanwhile, Tomas Zapotocny smashed a volley just over from outside the area as Sparta showed their abilities.
Hazard came on as Chelsea looked to win the tie, and the Belgian winger went close with a pacy free-kick that was well saved by Vaclik. Ramires whizzed the ball wide from four yards as time started to run out for Chelsea.
Extra-time seemed likely but Chelsea’s wing wizard had other ideas. He stepped up and skipped away from two defenders, before hitting a bullet of a left-foot shot into the top corner from a tight angle, sending Stamford Bridge into raptures.
Match Report by Kyle Dixon (@kyledixon95)
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Kyle Dixon